By Kate Torpie, Garden Guides Contributor
About Peach Trees
Nothing compares with the sweet juice that drips down your chin after biting into a fresh, sweet, cool peach picked from a Prunis persica in your own backyard. But, as far as planting goes, nothing compares with the heartache that befalls many a potential peach grower who does not tend to his trees like the delicate children they are. Beware. It's hard work, but it's worth it. If you live in a colder area where spring frosts are common, though, you may as well not bother. The failure rate is too high.
The very best site for a peach tree is against the southern wall of a house. This keeps it in the sun and safe from wind. The hole for your tree should be about 3 feet deep. It should also be about 6 feet wide and 3 feet long. Dig it 2 months before planting and fill it with compost or mulch. The soil should have great drainage.
Plant the tree about a half a foot away from the house. Planting takes place in October. Before setting the tree in place, attach wires to the wall every 2 feet with nails. Go up about 4 feet and out about 8 feet from the center of the hole. This will give the tree something to grab onto as it grows. Before placing the tree in its spot, gently shake it and spread its roots. Then, gently place the tree with its roots spread in the center of the hole. It should be placed as deeply as it had been before you purchased it. If you have any stems, thread them through the wires.
Caring for a fruit tree is not easy. First of all, a peach tree can fall victim to an awful, overwintering fungus called Taphrina deformans that does exactly as it sounds: it deforms the leaves. Then it kills the tree. You can prevent this with a specific remedy for this fungus, sold by most nurseries. Several months (3 or so) after you plant the tree, you will begin noticing buds. Leave 2 on each side of the tree, but that's it. Remove the others. Cut the tree down to about 2 feet. The 2 buds left will form the basic shape of your tree. In the first summer, check out your 4 first branches. Which 2 are strongest? Cut the other 2 off. Then thread the strong branches through the wire so that they are at a 45 degree angle. By next summer, these 2 branches will have several offshoots; cut off all but 3 on each branch: 2 facing upwards and 1 downwards. Thread the remaining branches through the wires. Future pruning will require you to cut all shoots, except those closest to the base of the branch. You can leave a few that look particularly healthy, but those should be cut the following year. You should have your first fruit harvest after 3 years.
Choosing a Variety
As with any other type of tree, the first thing to consider when choosing a variety is your location: The local climate and the length of the growing season will determine which variety has the greatest success rate. Ask a local nursery for advice on the types recommended for your specific region. Another consideration is space: Some trees will require more space than others, though dwarf varieties can be used in very small gardens. Because peaches are fruit trees, you should consider what you want to do with your fruit. Some varieties are better for canning (Golden Jubilee), while others are better for plucking from the branch (June Gold). Carolina Gold is a variety that offers the best of both worlds. Once you have decided on tree, make sure yours is healthy. It should be at least a year old in order to transplant well. Also, it should not have any brown or yellow leaves, as this could be indicative of a virus or a failure to thrive.
Harvesting and Storage
Peaches need to be in full sunlight to ripen. You can tell if a fruit is ripe by testing how loose it is from its stem. If it can be easily pulled off, enjoy! If not, give it another week or so. Once a peach is picked, it should be eaten immediately. They do not store well. Technically, you can freeze them, but this ruins the flavor.